The Qur’anic System of Sustenance – editor’s foreword

Excerpted from The Qur’anic System of Sustenance by G.A. Parwez
(trans. Saleena Karim & Fazal Karim)

FOREWORD (editor)

The Qur'anic System of Sustenance coverGhulam Ahmad Parwez was without doubt one of the greatest minds of the last century. In his time he was misunderstood and deemed a heretic in his own country, and his essentially rationalist approach was viewed with much suspicion in the Muslim world. Since his death in 1985 however, his popularity has steadily grown both in Pakistan and across the world. The full impact of his work has yet to be properly assessed and appreciated.

My father (Fazal Karim) and I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to translate Parwez’s seminal work, Nizam-e-Rabbubiyat, into English. The Urdu title literally translates to System of (Universal) Sustenance, but over the years among those discussing his work in English it has wrongly been referred to as the ‘Qur’anic Economic System’, which is not only a misnomer, but also exposes a gross misinterpretation of Parwez’s thought. Although this book discusses communism and capitalism in light of Qur’anic principles, and, notwithstanding the fact that Parwez describes this book as a ‘monograph on the subject of economics’ [1], it is fair to say that it does not, as such, present a purely economic system with the mere aim of meeting material needs. Whereas the very word ‘economy’ implies an acceptance of the scarcity principle, the Divine principles of sustenance cannot be characterised together as ‘economy’, being based on the Qur’an’s self-attested principle of ‘abundance’. Nor should the Urdu word nizam (system) in the title be taken to mean a closed system. On the subject of the word deen (usually translated as ‘religion’), Parwez has stated elsewhere that whilst ‘way of life’ (or ‘system’) is the closest meaning of the Arabic, even this is insufficient. Deen certainly is a systemic word, but it does not literally translate to ‘system’. Since (to paraphrase Parwez) Islam as a deen equates to the Divine process of sustenance (Rabbubiya) at work throughout the universe, [2] his chosen Urdu word nizam likewise does not point to a fixed system, but to a set of principles taken together as a whole.

Moreover, this book is really an attempt to delineate the Qur’anic method of meeting human needs in their entirety – both material and ‘spiritual’. Parwez himself remarks in Chapter 4: ‘Meeting our physical needs is a means to an end, and not an end in itself’. Again in Chapter 8, he writes: ‘The higher purpose of the Divine system of sustenance is not just to meet the physical needs of people. Indeed, meeting physical needs is only a rudimentary and superficial aim. From the Qur’anic perspective this is only a step in the direction of life’s true purpose, which is to develop and perfect the self, and this can be achieved only by enacting the principle of universal sustenance’.

In short, Parwez has tried to show that the Divine system of sustenance not only serves to rewrite the generally accepted rules of economy, but also those of human society, and by extension, of reality. While there are those who would view Parwez’s views as utopian and unrealistic, he was inspired by the Qur’anic line that it is all ‘easy for God’ (as mentioned in Chapter 8 of this book) – suggesting that what may seem difficult in view of humanity’s present mindset would in fact be very easy for a nation that understands the Divine Message.

The translation

This is a translation of the 1978 edition with minor editorial revisions and additions made by the translators solely for the purpose of clarifying the content of the main text. We have also added footnotes (all marked Translators’ note), again to either expand upon or clarify statements made in the original Urdu text.

The chief difference between the original 1955 and 1978 editions was the addition of some appendices by Parwez, namely: Islami Socialism (Islamic Socialism), 2) Jahaan Marx Na-Kaam Reh Geya (Where Marx Failed), Mao Tse Tung aur Qur’an (Mao Tse Tung and the Qur’an: A Comparison) and Riba ke Behs (The Debate Over Interest). As these titles suggest, Parwez wrote these appendices mainly to address communism, which was still operational in both Russia and China at the time. Since then communism has essentially failed worldwide (even China, while technically remaining a communist state, is behaving increasingly like a modern capitalist state in practice), and so the content of these appendices is no longer relevant to the present economic climate. For this reason we have not reproduced them. However we have translated two important sections on zakaat and riba from the third of Parwez’s appendices, Riba ke Behs, and included it as a short additional chapter, inserted before the Afterword.

When it comes to quotes from the Qur’an, we have taken the liberty of inserting well-known English translations (slightly edited to modernise the English) wherever Parwez has referred to particular verses and reproduced the Arabic. Parwez’s approach (as he explains in his Preface to the 1978 edition, also reproduced in this book) was to translate meaning for meaning (exposition) rather than translate literally word for word. This is because literal translations sometimes fail to convey the full meaning of the Qur’anic text – a fact universally acknowledged by all translators of the Qur’an. Nevertheless, wherever the meaning of Parwez’s expositional translation is close to a traditional version, we have seamlessly combined the two. This has the added benefit of showing the reader how to better understand literal translations. At other times, Parwez’s expositional text is either included in the main text immediately following the traditional quotations, or occasionally part of it appears in footnotes.

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Mr Maqbool Mahmood Farhat of Ilford, Essex, who went to a great deal of trouble in locating the vast majority of the references in this book. Some of the works were not fully referenced in the original Urdu text, which made the task of locating them that much more difficult. To Mr Farhat goes the credit of saving us much time in this area.

Finally, it goes without saying that no translation is ever truly perfect, and so we end by saying that any deficiency in this translation is ours and ours alone.

Saleena Karim, Nottingham, UK

15 July 2012

 

Footnotes


[1] See Parwez’s Preface to the 1978 edition. In fact it seems he wrote this line only because he had added three appendices on economic subjects.

[2] See end of Chapter 1.

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6 comments

  1. It is so true that translation of Nizam e rabbubiyat is not quite Quranic Economic System, because Rabbubiyat encompasses all and everything that needs attention and consideration of the slightest in this eternal dance of life, so sustenance seems quite close to this profound term.

  2. Sheikh Abdul Malik says:

    To Salina Karim

    I have your excellent book on Secular Jinnah and Pakistan and appreciate the well-researched work. In your views about Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, you have ignored the fact that he took liberties with the Quran. He did not know Arabic well and translated many Quranic terms contrary to Arabic lexicon and usage, only to prove his ideas, disregarding the exposition by the Prophet [sws], his companions, or the mufassireen, and with no regard for the historic context of a revelation. His was an attempt to make Islam appear modern, to conform with the ideas prevalent in his time. He founded a school of thought that denies all ahadees, which allows his school to give any meaning, however outlandish, to the Quran. It also suggests that Muslims were not interested in what the Prophet [sws] taught, said or did and that it was only now that some persons (who do not know Arabic) have understood the real intent of the Quran. This was the reason of the criticism of his work.

    • Dear sir, welcome and thanks for your comments, which I appreciate. Yes, I’m aware of the reasons for the controversies, and yes, he placed the Quran above hadith. But he never denied the validity of all hadith. His position was that any given hadith should be considered authoritative if it is in line with the Quran, and rejected if it is not. On Arabic, he was very well versed in the language as well as in Muslim tradition. He also studied lexiconic usage deeply, as reflected in the footnotes of all his works. In any case, it should be borne in mind that his is not the final word. He himself repeated this many times, and added that if anyone could show him his errors through the Quran, he was always willing to be corrected. After all, he was only human. I would advise that every reader judges Parwez by reading his work for him/herself. Even if we don’t agree with him, we can’t fault him on his honesty and sincerity of purpose.

      As I have said before, Parwez needs to be objectively reassessed. And on that note sir, to be perfectly frank, had I for one minute thought that Parwez took liberties with the Quran, or that he founded a school of thought (which we know is really a euphemism for a sect), I assure you I would have never given his work any of my time, let alone translate it.

  3. Mohammad Iftikhar-ul-Haq says:

    Bravo! Well answered! You have indeed given a concise, though terse, reply to his criticism of Janab Pervez’s work. As to Allama Pervez’s knowledge of the Arabic language, just a cursory glance through his monumental work “Lughat-ul-Qur’an” should be enough to assure and set at peace anyone about the pristine clarity and subtle nuances of his exposition of Qur’an in his “Mafhoom-ul-Qur’an”. Any serious student of Qur’an, undertaking a comparative study of various Tafasir, would certainly vouchsafe how easily and smoothly Pervez goes on to untangle the difficult and unresolved, knotty, classical, problems of comprehending various parts of Qur’an. This is because of his firm grasp and command of the “Muhawra-e-Arab”. It will certainly require a host of scholars of caliber to properly assess and evaluate the contribution of Allama Pervez to the comprehension of Qur’an. And yet, paradoxically, his books, which have been written at such a high intellectual plane in the light of modern knowledge, are intelligible even to lay readers as well, provided one studies them with an open mind. It goes only to the credit of Allama Pervez that one is absolutely convinced that there is no contradiction whatsoever in Qur’an and that it is a composite whole. This is just one aspect of the impact of his elaboration of the Qur’anic terminology in view of his knowledge of the Arabic language and ‘Tasreef-e-‘A_yat’.

  4. Maqbool Farhat says:

    I sincerely compliment both Saleena Karim and M. Iftikhar-ul-Haq in analysing beautifully and impartially the old age baseless allegations against G.A.Parwez. This absurd accusation by Mr Abdul Malik is not a new phenomena.It goes on since 1960’s when Parwwz read his paper “The basis of legislation in an Islamic State” at a colloquium held in Lahore where eminent foreign scholars on Islam read their articles. Couple of Arab delegates objected that Parwez was not fit enough to say anything on Islam because of his mearge knowledge of Arabic language or Islamic history. So called learned men of a Pakisatni religious cum political party were stoking these delegates behind the scenes.
    I quote here a very interesting observation by Saudid Arabian ambassador Sheikh Hafiz Wahba in his book ARABIAN DAYS published by Arthur Barker Ltd London W1 page 62 ” Very few of the Arabian Ulema have a complete knowledge of the Arabic language and its literature, of rhetoric, etymology, or elocution, and nor one of them knows Moslem history properly. Historical knowledge is limited to the Life of the Prophet, and the Caliphs to the end of the AbbasidesDynasty, and in ancient history, to Tabari and Ibn Alathir./ News of the recent discoveries which have contributed so much to our knowledge of ancient times has not yet penerate Arabia……I think this enogh for the time being.
    Maqbool Farhat

  5. And now, folks, you can see what I mean when I say Parwez attracted controversy. :D

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